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Labor and business each a winner in 2013 legislative year

Labor gained a 25% increase in the minimum wage while oil companies defeated a ban on fracking and sports teams won limits on workers' comp.

September 15, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • Oil companies, big contributors to lawmakers this year, saw new regulations on drilling, but beat back a proposed moratorium on controversial petroleum fracking. Above, pumps work the oil fields near Maricopa earlier this year.
Oil companies, big contributors to lawmakers this year, saw new regulations… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

SACRAMENTO — Two of the Capitol's major political players, business and organized labor, chalked up big victories during marathon sessions at the end of the 2013 legislative year.

Labor won a historic 25% increase in the minimum wage Thursday in the session's last hours. Employers denounced the two-step pay raise to $10 an hour in 2016 as a "job killer."

But employers reaped tax breaks for job development, state-regulated utilities got a go-ahead for new residential rate-setting rules, and the National Football League and other professional sports leagues picked up limits on workers' compensation benefits for out-of-state players.

Oil companies, big contributors to lawmakers this year, saw new regulations on drilling, but beat back a proposed moratorium on controversial petroleum fracking.

"It was the usual free-for-all with a lot of stuff flying around, but everybody won a few things and lost a few things," said regulatory lawyer Darry Sragow, who is also a Democratic strategist and USC political science professor.

In the end-of-session flurry, particular industries, entrepreneurs and consumer groups scored.

The sleep products industry got a program that would tax bedding sales to pay for recycling mattresses and box springs.

Small distillers got the right to charge for on-premises tastings of custom-made liquors. And animal-rights activists won a ban on selling puppies, kittens and bunnies at swap meets and flea markets.

Hands-on lobbying by Gov. Jerry Brown determined the outcome of some hot-button issues. Until recently, the governor regularly declined to take public positions on bills before they passed. But this year was different.

Last week before key votes, Brown publicly endorsed the minimum wage hike, AB 10 by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville). He also publicly signaled that he would sign the fracking regulation bill, SB 4 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

Brown didn't speak out on the electric rate bill, AB 327 by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno). But his staff, which helped craft and negotiate the final compromise, made it clear to all parties that their boss wanted a deal.

Earlier in the session, Brown's activism paid off for labor and businesses by his personal involvement in a bill that replaced the state's inefficient enterprise zone program with a sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment and other tax breaks.

In the weeks ahead, Brown also will have the final say on whether hundreds of bills get signed into law by him — or vetoed.

As governor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Brown said that he kept the canoe of state on course "by paddling on the left and, then, paddling on the right," said Bill Whalen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank on the Stanford University campus.

That still appears to be Brown's philosophy, he said. "We have a governor who is Democratic in name but more independent than we are used to in terms of partisanship."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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